Monday, August 25, 2008

Gratitude Monday - Glacier Tracking Edition

Behind me is Athabasca Glacier at Columbia Icefields along the Jasper-Banff Parkway.
I had the privilege of working there my first summer out of high school so I got to see this scenery every day.
I worked in the camp kitchen. We fed the summer staff who made the beds and drove the snowmobiles and pumped the gas for the tourists.
If you look at the photos you’ll see some parked vehicles and a small hill of bare rock. Behind it is the glacier.
Thirty –two years ago the toe of the glacier covered that area and then some. It was also green with grass. The first day I was there my friend who came to work there too and our boyfriends who’d driven us took a walk. A small pond rippled in the cool mountain breeze just below the highway near the toe. It bore a sign “Unit for Drinking Water.” When I came by later I realized I needed to wear my reading glasses all the time. The sign said “Unfit for Drinking Water.”

In the foreground of the second photo the sign “1942” denotes where the glacier ended in that year.
One hundred years ago Athabasca Glacier reached to what is now the highway.
The dots on the glacier are people walking on it. When I worked there this was frowned upon as it wasn’t safe.
We took an after-hours glacier tour on the big snowmobiles one evening and got out and walked a bit at the top of the glacier. I skipped over a clear running rivulet and tried not to slip. It was a cold thrill.
Tours back then took about 45 minutes. Drivers told us one of the common questions from tourists was, “How long does a 45-minute tour take?”They’d keep an absolutely sober tone as they answered. “About three-quarters of an hour.”

I don’t know if it shows up in this picture but about halfway up the glacier on the left hand side there’s a red thing. That’s one of the tour snowmobiles. They’re much bigger today.

It saddens me to see how much the glacier has receded in the last three decades. I’m glad I got to work there and that I can remember how it used to look. I think there was a rockslide in the 1980s. That’s why it’s so bare. Up the road the rockslide is more obvious, but trees are coming back.

This photo is of the new chalet. It opened sometime in the 1990s. I drove by when was being built and that was around 1995. The old one looked so small in comparison. It’s gone to make way for a newer, bigger parking lot. If you look to the right of the highway you’ll see a hill. Staff quarters are behind that hill. Today’s accommodations look big and permanent rather than the Atco trailers we had in 1976.
I got ill when I was there so I only worked there a few weeks, but it was only migraines and they are long under control.
I’m grateful for my time at the Icefields, and I still love to see the tourists enjoying what to me will always be my mountains.


the Bag Lady said...

Great post, dfLeah. I haven't seen the icefields for many years. Wonder if I have any old photos that would show a difference? *Note to self - look in old photo albums*

Thanks for this Gratitude Monday!

Leah J. Utas said...

dfBag lady, you're welcome. I thought of digging around for an old pic to post as comparison. I decided it was too much work and would sadden me that much more.

bunnygirl said...

Well, what's left is still lovely and interesting, but it's sad to see such obvious markers of time passing and the climate changing.

Is there a glacier museum in the area? I found out recently that Norway has one and now I'm curious if it's something other countries with glaciers have.

If you go to a glacier museum, can you buy ice cubes as souvenirs?

Leah J. Utas said...

LOL! Ice cubes. Nice one, Bunnygirl.
I don't know about a formal museum, but I think there are photos of the area from earlier times. I was in the new chalet once and found it overwhelming, but I think there might be pics of the glacier in it.

Reb said...

Thanks for the photos Leah. It is incredible and sad how much they have receded.

Leah J. Utas said...

You're welcome, Reb. It is heart-wrenching for me to see how much it's receded.

Hilary said...

That's an incredible measure of time and change .. not everyone gets to experience that kind of thing. It's quite amazing. Thanks for sharing, Leah. Very cool post. And DID you actually drink any of that unfit water?

Leah J. Utas said...

Hilary, it was a pleasure, if a bittersweet one, to share my memories of the glacier.
Fortunately I reread the sign in time to avoid ingesting any of it. That said, it would be good clean mountain water from 1976. It was probably fine.

Thomma Lyn said...

Beautiful pictures, and it certainly is sad what's happening all over because of climate change.

Leah J. Utas said...

Thanks, Thomma Lynn.

Fortune Cookies said...

it truly is sad how few are aware of the dissipating glaciers and the true magnitude of it all. the impact, globally, will be felt for ages to come. Thanks for sharing your photos...they are poignant...beautiful... yet sad.

Leah J. Utas said...

Hey, FC. I wish more people knew and understood.